This isn’t the first time the idea of petrol subsidy removal would be mooted. The Jonathan administration under which the incumbent Director General of the World Trade Organization, WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, served as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy also had its fair share of mention in the saga. In fact, former President Jonathan said at that time severally that fuel subsidy was unsustainable and tried unsuccessfully to remove it.
In a video that went viral last week, Okonjo-Iweala is seen narrating how she spearheaded efforts to scrap payment of questionable subsidies and how beneficiaries viciously fought back, culminating in her mother’s kidnapping and demand for her resignation.
“My second example has to do with a very specific one in my country, the clean-up of the fuel scarcity regime in 2012 during my second stay as Finance Minister”, she narrates in the video.
“Nigeria has a physically challenging force of fuel regime, the country exports crude oil and imports fuel because their refineries are in a very bad shape and provides a subsidy for the refined oil as support.
“At the end of 2011, a total of N1.73tr, US $11b equivalent, was submitted as claims for subsidy by 143 marketers, who were importing the product.
“These numbers seemed horrendously large compared to what I had last when I was in government in 2006, which was close to $2b in subsidy.
“So, we decided to study these claims. We audited about $8.4b worth of claims and we found out $2.5b worth of fraud. That is, many of these marketers were trying to claim $2.5b fraudulently.
“With the full backing of the President and the Economic Team, we decided that we were not going to entertain these claims or to pay.
“The pressure from affected marketers was tremendous…not only to say we would not pay but also to say we would clean up the whole mechanism for the subsidy claims and put in place something more transparent, something clearer.
This did not go down well with them. “When we insisted on our position of non-payment and implementation of the new verification regime, these, and well-connected interests, were angered, and came to blame me personally for this. “There were personal consequences. My 83-year-old mother, a retired professor of sociology, was kidnapped by four young men and held for five days.
“She was totally terrified. She asked them why she had been kidnapped and they told her ‘Because your daughter, the Finance Minister, refused to pay oil marketers their dues’.
“The kidnappers, negotiating with my brother, demanded my resignation, publicly; that I should go on television, publicly and announce my resignation and depart from the country as a condition for my mother’s release.
“Needless to say these were some of the worst days of my life. Imagine when you are in a position, you want your parents, all of whom are here with you today, and your relatives to be proud of you. You want to be a source of good for your family.
“You can imagine how I felt, sitting there and thinking, just because of trying to do something right. To implement a policy that was good for the country, to lead to the taking of my mother’s life. These were some of the worst days of my life.
“With my father’s support and the firm resolve of the President, we all decided I should not give in to the blackmailers and I refused to resign.
“Following a manhunt for my mother by security agencies, she was able to make a dramatic escape after five days in captivity, where she was only given water and half of a sausage roll.
“So, here with the well-justified clean up and reform of a policy, but implemented in a dangerous reform environment where the losers in the reform, where the entrenched vested interests decided to fight back to derail implementation.
“The decision not to resign was a very difficult and risky one but, as it turned out, it worked.
“But on my down days, I ask myself, what if it hadn’t? What if they had gone ahead and murdered my mother, as she overheard them planning to do with one of the handlers on the phone? Could I have justified trading firmness on policy and standing up to blackmailers, implementing a good policy for my mother’s life? What decision would you have made?”